Interview with CARESSE HENRY, manager for Tricky, Shelley, and formerly Madonna (No.1 US) - Jul 2, 2007
ďYou donít want to devote much time to somebody that is going to be around for three or four years. Iím looking at career artistsĒ,
... says the woman who managed Madonna (No.1 US) for several years and helped shape one of the greatest pop icons of all time.
Caresse Henry, who also handled Top 10 US artists such as Jessica Simpson and Joss Stone, is still hungry and passionate about great music, regardless of genre. She takes on new artists and urges other managers to do so.
She talks to HitQuarters about how she got hired to manage Madonna, the importance of working long-term, and adapting to new market trends.
How did you get into management?
It happened almost by accident. I was born and raised in Los Angeles. Initially I got a job at a music college working as a clerk. Then I got a job as a receptionist at a management firm that specialised in entertainment and all of their clients were entertainment based related like directors, artists, bands, producers.
From receptionist I went to work for one of the partners in the firm. I would do the books and cover financial statements. I hired this girl named Paula DeMann, who happens to be Freddy DeMannís daughter. She told me, ďYou should meet my dad. Heíd like you!Ē I met with Freddy and he asked me this particular question. And I gave him the answer. And based on that question he said, ďYouíre hiredĒ.
He had a management company that managed Lionel Ritchie and Madonna. This was just prior to her launching Maverick Records. When Maverick was formed, Freddy was extremely busy.
Madonna and I met and she decided to hire me. It was probably because I was one of the only people in the office not afraid of her.
I started doing management because Freddy was super busy with work and started up this company. They had immediate success with Candlebox, Meshell Ndegeocello and Alanis Morissette. I happened to be at the right place at the right time and fortunate enough to grab the opportunity.
Why did you found CHD Entertainment?
CHD Entertainment is a new entity that I formed when Madonna and I parted ways. I went to work at Sanctuary for two years. Once I left there, in January of 2007, I went back to my own company. I found that working in that corporate environment was just not for me. I like to keep it small and very hands-on. I formed CHD Entertainment this year. Itís relatively new. Caliente Entertainment is my company that I had when I was managing Madonna. So, itís just a name change essentially.
What is your musical direction with regards to who you take on?
I have a very diverse musical taste by nature. For me itís about the quality of the music. Iím not about a specific genre. If it sounds great and the artist is somebody that Iím excited about and is creative then I would sign them. But Iím extremely particular because you devote so much time to an artist, and Iím very hands-on.
What artists are you currently working with?
Iím working with a country artist named Jennifer Wayne (John Wayneís granddaughter) right now and developing her. Iím working with Tricky from Massive Attack. He has an album coming out on Domino Records in October. Iím working with this new pop/ hip-hop artist out of Florida named Kristy Scott, who is phenomenal.
Itís across the board for me. But I also like looking at artists beyond music. Looking at multi-platforms in order to expand their careers on different levels. Iím definitely looking at branding. Having worked with Madonna for so many years, thatís how my brain operates.
How was your experience of being Madonnaís manager?
Having an opportunity to work with an icon and having been such a hands-on manager and my style, working on everything from the music aspects and negotiations and the business side too. From childrenís books to animation to theatre to film to every end of it Ö thereís no specific thing that I could tick off of a list.
Not everyone can say that they were able to work and be granted that honour of working with an icon. Itís almost like being a part of history. I feel very blessed to have had that opportunity. I want to take the knowledge that I have and if Iím able to make that history with another artist, thatís my goal.
Whatís the difference between working with established artists and new artists?
The model in terms of the business, especially in the music world, is changing so rapidly that you always have to be thinking about the future and the next change and breaking the mould. Unfortunately, the record labels were a little bit behind the ball in terms of the internet and the whole downloading issue. But I believe that itís about to reach outside of the box. We did break a lot of rules, but you have to think that way in order to beat the system and to be progressive. That is really key.
For new artists itís a little bit more difficult, because you do have to establish their name. But with the power of the internet and having so many millions of eyeballs there, if you do the job right and the music is great and the artist is a great performer then it will catch on.
Even with an established artist itís still about keeping it fresh and keeping it hot, so that the fans will still buy the next album and will still come to the next show.
What needs to be in place before signing to management?
For me itís to make sure that the artist has not only a vocal ability to sing live, but also that performing Ďití factor.
Whatís usually discussed in first meetings?
I like to find out who they are as a person. Who inspires them musically. What theyíre looking at in terms of their career. I try and weed through the usual questions and answers and get to the heart of where they are and what theyíre thinking of in terms of creativity. And if they think itís important to establish who they are as a person.
You donít want to devote so much time to somebody that is just going to be around for three or four years. Iím looking at career artists. Iím in it for the long haul.
How do you convince them to take you on as their manager?
I think itís more the other way around.
Is it harder now than before to find new avenues for branding?
I donít believe that that is the case. I just think itís about doing the job. You have to do your homework. You have to be pro-active. The opportunities are out there. You just have to have the contacts and really fight for your artists. But I donít think itís any more difficult.
For me, itís just about getting the artist signed and making sure you have the right label and the right team behind them. Itís not just about the manager.
Itís about the record label, the staff, promotion, publicity. It goes beyond the manager. Itís definitely not one person. Itís about a whole team.
How do you form the right team around an artist?
Itís depending on the type of music. When you meet with labels, you look at their track record, at their success. There are some great labels out there and some wonderful teams. But you definitely have to look at their track record in order to make sure itís the right fit.
You have to make sure you have the right press people involved. You have to make sure you got a great A&R person and the right producers and writers. Itís definitely a collaborative process.
How did you build up your network?
Through time. Having been in the business now for so long and working on so many different levels and platforms, I had the opportunity to meet people, from photographers to executives to attorneys.
You do business with them. When there are tough negotiations you do that in one room. When you close the door you have a friendly conversation outside of that door. Over the amount of time that Iíve been doing this you meet people and you just maintain the contacts as you would in any relationship.
Do you look for outside songs for your artists?
Absolutely. There are certain people that I know, but it depends on the type of genre of music that your artist is working on.
The Nashville artist Jennifer Wayne, we hook her up with writers that are in that vein. Kristy Scott works with AC Burrell, but she would be great to work with Dallas Austin for instance.
It depends on the album that we want to put together. Then I will see if the label has suggestions and ideas for writers. Then you put them together with producers and so on. Itís also very much a personality thing, whether or not itís going to work. Thereís so much wonderful talent out there. Itís the luxury of having this pool of people that youíre able to reach out to and test the water.
How do you find new talent?
From a variety of sources. From some lawyers, producers or people contacting me. From the wildest places. Youíd be surprised.
What advice would you give unsigned artists on how to build a professional career?
I would suggest that they tour and perform, perform, perform Ö and definitely utilise the internet as much as they can. Itís key for them to learn the process as well; they have to go through it on their own.
To get some merchandise out there. To make T-shirts. To do their email blast. To create their Myspace site. To pull together a simple video that they can do with their own video camera and put something up on YouTube. Build a fanbase. Build impressions. Create their music. Perform for me. Itís all about that. Because if someone came to me just fresh cold without any of that behind them, I would probably pass.
What will be the new music industry routes to the consumer?
Itís really the internet. We canít deny that. Itís great to see Soundscan and the numbers relatively strong, and especially the diversity.
Is it becoming harder for a new artist to attract a big-name manager as itís more lucrative for them to concentrate on their existing acts?
Unfortunately, that is the case. We do need to nurture the newer artists. There is an opportunity and I think that itís time for new artists to come out. More managers should take on new artists. Itís a shame if we donít do that.
And the labels should spend time to nurture them as well and to give them the opportunity, if their song is a hit on radio immediately, to take the time to really develop the artist. Because you canít just throw out one song there and if it doesnít stick drop the artist from the label.
We owe it to a certain degree to not just look at it from a financial perspective. We all do need to make a living, but itís very important to take on new artists.
Whatís concerned you about the music business during your time working within it?
I felt that record labels and a lot of other people in the music business overall did not catch on to the rapid growth of the internet. They didnít anticipate it or grasp on to that quick enough.
People are kind of slow to change. They get stuck with their format and their system of doing A, B, C, and D. And that is what threw everything upside down.
What has changed over the years for music industry managers?
We are all, just as anyone else, trying to figure out ways to help our clients become a success, and just be extremely creative in regards to that.
I see more artists branching out into other areas of the entertainment business beyond music. I applaud that. Artists are such creative people as it is, and so itís excellent to see them do other things beyond music.
Those are things that we have done and continue to do. That is something really noticeable, and going to be the way of the future.
What would you like to sign next?
With what Iíve got working on right now Iíll definitely make history again.
What kinds of artists would you like to see gain more popularity?
I like to see Kelly Clarkson get a bit of a break here. Iím all for Rufus Wainwright. I love him. I like to see Britney come back. I think she can. And I like to see these upcoming artists really have their moment.
What are your future plans for CHD Ent.?
Iím going to continue pushing buttons and push the boundaries. I just look forward to cultivating talent and doing what I love to do, which is managing artists.
Interview by Kimbel Bouwman
Read On ...
* Madonna producer and brother-in-law Joe Henry on his songwriting career